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Health concerns trigger virtual reactions

This isn’t science fiction, folks, although it sure seems like it.

Yellow tents are popping up outside hospital entrances.

Retailers are sold out of, well, everything.

School is canceled; people are quarantined.

And much of the general population that does venture out in public is clad in face masks, as if it’s just the normal thing to do.

Having traveled a year or two ago to Asia, I can tell you that is the norm there. The streets of Taipei, for example, are crowded with unimaginable numbers of mask-clad people jammed onto motorized scooters buzzing in and out of traffic without a care in the world. (I remember wondering if these people worry so much about their health that they wear face masks everywhere, shouldn’t they be more concerned with traffic safety?)

But I digress.

The pandemic we’re facing today has triggered much reaction from our elected officials who are trying to lead but, let’s face it, are probably just as confused as we are.

President Donald Trump on Friday declared the COVID-19 pandemic a national emergency.

Gov. Mike DeWine ordered an end to all mass gatherings and closed schools for at least three weeks.

And now, our local leaders are locking down city buildings, refusing to allow the public to come inside to pay their utility bills.

But this is 2020, and utility customers don’t have to slide their payments under the door.

The world doesn’t have to shut down as it probably did during the days of the 1918 Spanish Flu.

In fact, during the past week, I’ve seen some pretty creative virtual reactions occur.

Students, including my two sons, will take their classes online for the next several weeks.

My older son, preparing to graduate from Youngstown State University in May, will finish his undergraduate career via laptop.

“Though we wish we were together for the remainder of the Spring semester, Gov. Mike DeWine and Ohio Department of Health Director, Dr. Amy Acton, estimate that the spread of the coronavirus in Ohio is likely to peak between late-April and mid-May,” YSU President Jim Tressel said Friday. “Therefore … all on-campus courses will be delivered remotely for the remainder of the Spring semester, starting March 23.”

The university also has set up a coronavirus information web page and is answering questions via email and social media.

My younger son is fortunate to attend a school district where every student is assigned a Google Chromebook. He’ll have assignments to complete via internet from home so that he can continue his coursework (and hopefully not be forced to make up the missed hours come June, when he could be out on the baseball diamond and not sitting behind a classroom desk.)

Last week, due to health concerns and potential spread of germs, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers turned a face-to-face meeting in Lordstown into a “virtual” meeting to gather community input on the automaker’s request to build its new Lordstown battery plant.

And in Newton Falls, village officials have been in touch with the Attorney General looking for guidance on their plan to close the doors to the public during their regular face-to-face council meetings. Council members intend to meet in council chambers and broadcast the meeting via internet and television to the public, who also will be invited to telephone in their comments in real time.

It all seems surreal, but this is the future.

At the end of the day, it is pretty amazing that we’ve arrived at a point in our lives when virtual attendance at public meetings is even possible.

Granted, I would not endorse continuing this type of activity indefinitely. After all, I’m the editor that gets frustrated with young reporters who prefer to do their reporting by email and text message rather than by going out, like I did, and actually talking to people.

But for now, if it’s keeping us safer, then I guess it’s working.

blinert@tribtoday.com

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